What store holds “anti-oppression training” doesn’t carry meat because they “think of animals as our friends” and is open on Independence day but closed for the Gay Pride parade? It ain’t Real Foods, it’s Rainbow Grocery. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I think Rainbow Grocery is the best store in the world. But I love it just the same.

Like Shuna , I tend to reject anything that seems the slightest bit “hippy-dippy”. Many of the folks working at my local Real Foods are just plain dippy. Like the guy behind the meat counter who can’t answer any questions because he doesn’t eat meat. You might think Rainbow Grocery is “hippy-dippy” but it really isn’t. It has a vibe that makes me smile. Here’s why:Start with the parking, it’s lousy but on really busy days the store sends someone out to play parking attendant. That’s nice.

The moment you enter the store you reach my favorite thing, the bulletin board. I’ve actually tried to convince several employees, sorry, worker-owners, that they ought to publish the comments in book form. One person comments that they don’t like that some men working at the store wear skirts. Another person responds, that they love that men wear skirts and think ALL the men should wear skirts. Another comment, no uniforms should be allowed, everyone should be free to wear what they want.

Someone always accuses the store of a conspiracy. Why don’t they carry spirulina spelt tortillas anymore? (ok I made that up) Don’t they know that was the only kind of tortilla I can eat? Are they trying to ruin my life? And then some nice store person will respond–sorry, the supplier no longer offers them but that the store is trying to find another supplier. Finally there are the comments about Odwalla. Doesn’t the store know that it’s owned by evil Coke? Yes, they know, but customers want the product and being a cooperative and all they voted and Odwalla stays. Feel free not to buy it.

At this point I’m smiling like, well, a stoned hippy. I move on to the bulk section which is amazingly organized and clean. It’s also full of obscure seaweeds and heirloom beans and the like. The olive bar is quite nice. The dried fruit section is a bit creepy for some reason. All those refrigerated boxes of brown fruit just give me the heeby jeebies.

The produce section provides information about where each item comes from, perfect for designing your menu ala “Watsonville Strawberries and Cream”. There are lots of organic products and prices are considerably better than what you find at Real Foods. But more importantly, nothing is rotten. Slime alert! At Real Foods stay away from the mung beans and mushrooms!

Each category of items, be it jam or crackers, seems to have a store recommendation. That way you can find the most fair trade, organic, local, sustainable product made by skirt wearing men. The dairy section is enormous and includes so many types of eggs you might have a breakdown trying to decide which to buy, except that they print an egg-buying guide, to help you along. The cheese section, unlike the one at Real Foods is actually staffed. Staffed by people, people who know about cheese. I know, crazy, but true.

Now the check out clerks can sometimes be a downer at Rainbow Grocery. They don’t have that Trader Joe’s perkiness. But still, it’s been a great trip.

Want to find out about customer appreciation day and where you can find 20% off coupons for Rainbow Grocery? Head over to Cooking with Amy .

Over at the Rainbow 26 April,2006Amy Sherman

  • David

    Great post, Amy. Really made me smile and miss Rainbow Grocery. Where else can you get chévre, vegan sausage, and ear-candling wax…all under one roof. And I support any business that allows men to wear skirts…any man (or woman) who can wear pumps on concrete for 8 hours deserves kudos.

  • Brett

    I love Rainbow too. It took me a while to warm up to it, but now I go there once or twice a week. Then I head over to Bi-Rite for my meat fix and I’m set.

  • shuna fish lydon

    I laughed out loud at the creepy dried brown fruit! I do know what you mean.

    And I love the boy people in skirts. Sexy makes me hungry.

    I used to be the customer “question” answerer at the first Whole Foods in Berkeley. I loved answering the card, “Why do you use white flour and white sugar?!! They are poison.”

  • Anonymous

    You overlooked one thing that Trader Joe’s and Rainbow do share: a clientele with no concept of personal space. I’m not sure where cleanliness, organization, and blindly leaving your cart in the middle of everything while you compare cracker ingredients or chat about the latest Spoon album originally came together, but these two stores sure have a lock on the intersection.

  • Amy Sherman

    I shop on weekdays at Rainbow and at the fabulously near empty Bay and Taylor Trader Joe’s so I can’t say I have experienced the “crush”.


Amy Sherman

Amy Sherman began blogging in 2003, because all her
friends and family were constantly asking her where
and what to eat. Three months after it launched,
Forbes chose her blog, Cooking with Amy, as one of the
top five best food blogs, praising her writing as
“smart, cozy and witty”. Since then her blog has been
featured and recipes reprinted in many newspapers and
magazines in the U.S. and the world.

In addition to regularly updating her blog, Amy is a
guest contributor to the Epicurious.com blog, and
Contributing Editor of Glam Dish. She also writes
restaurant reviews for SF Station.

Her focus on Bay Area Bites is primarily cookbook
reviews along with some interviews and current events.

Amy is a recipe developer and freelance food writer.
She is author of WinePassport: Portugal and wrote the new introduction to the classic cookbook, Jane Grigson’s Vegetable Book, published by the University of Nebraska Press. She recently completed 45 recipes for a Williams-Sonoma cookbook and wrote her first piece for VIA magazine.

She is currently serving on the board of the San Francisco Professional Food Society and is a member of the International Association of Culinary Professionals. Amy lives in San Francisco with her husband, tech journalist Lee Sherman.

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